Movements build to ban secret use of facial recognition

Movements build to ban secret use of facial recognition

State governments at opposite ends of the nation appear ready to place more controls on the use of facial recognition technology.

In Maine, a move is afoot to repeal a state law used by police to hide their use of face recognition. Washington State continues to be divided by privacy rights, but legislators have passed a more targeted measure regulating public and private use of facial recognition tools. And in Santa Cruz, California, a small vacation and college town just over the Santa Cruz Mountains from Silicon Valley, a public safety committee has voted up a proposed ordinance banning the technology.

One commonality among the efforts is a rejection of the notion that biometric systems must be concealed for them to be effective.

Friday, Maine’s state criminal justice committee heard comments on “An Act to Increase Government Accountability,” a bill to repeal a 2013 law that allowed state police to neither confirm nor deny they have deployed a technology that can be used for surveillance, including like face recognition systems.

Use of facial recognition was only acknowledged by Maine’s state public safety commissioner this month, according to The Portland Press Herald.

Perhaps sensing a broad anti-surveillance sentiment, Maine State Police Maj. Christopher Grotton testified that the use of non-answers regarding surveillance might have been overused.

The Press Herald quoted Grotton saying: “We believe that there are times when that limited response still makes sense.” There is no scheduled meeting by the state legislature to decide the issue.

State legislators in Washington State, however, this month passed legislation putting several new restrictions on the use of facial recognition. The bill, SB 6280, now goes to the governor for a signature or a veto.

The bill would require local and state agencies to disclose their use of the technology. It also forces agencies to train before using face scanning and to test for bias. Last, a task force must be created to minimize discrimination against vulnerable populations.

It is notable that the legislature, for the second year in a row, failed to find common ground on data privacy. At issue is the creation of a set of rights similar to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation. A failed bill would have required companies to delete the data they had collected on an individual when that person requested.

In Santa Cruz, the public safety committee approved a proposed ordinance that, if passed by the city council, would stop the city from using facial recognition. The measure could be voted on by the council in April.

The ordinance would also force city officials to hold public hearings prior to using surveillance technology. As well, officials would need to develop use policies with integrated oversight and accountability procedures.

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